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“Shall we clear up the mess from the stockings now or just do it all in one shift tomorrow?” asked Sarah, standing in the doorway and surveying the mid-morning Christmas detritus already covering a large proportion of the living room carpet. “I’m just thinking about possible trip hazards. You know what Sienna’s like in those heels when she’s had a few shandies.”
Steve was stretched out on the sofa with his head sandwiched between two cushions.
“Yep, that’s definitely an option we could consider,” Steve managed, “and I’ll action that just as soon as my brain doesn’t feel like Rudolph’s red and shiny bloated ball bag.”
“I didn’t hear you come in last night.”
“It’s Christmas, Sarah.”
“So what’s your excuse for every other day of the year?”
A tornado of color and motion suddenly careened through the room, kicking up wrapping paper and sending tea cups and already forgotten stocking fillers skittering along the carpet.
“Hello, you two,” said Sarah. “Have you eaten all your chocolate coins?”
“We found some coffee too,” chirped Melody, spinning round on the spot and letting her new blue and silver dress billow outwards like a psychedelic parasol. Her little brother Johnny, his orange eye-band slipping down his face, blindly whirled his nunchaku around his head, the plastic handles whizzing perilously close to the mantelpiece.
“Careful, Michelangelo!” said Sarah, quickly pulling an ornament beyond her son’s reach. “I better give the turkey another glaze. Why don’t you play with Daddy, kids? I think he still needs a bit of waking up.”
Steve shot a bitter parting scowl at his wife.
“What shall we play, Daddy?” asked Johnny.
“Why don’t you find the Shredder and ask him if he has any paracetamol? Take…this fairy…”
Melody scowled at her prostrate father.
With Johnny it was fine. The constant rebooting and rehashing of his own childhood icons were helpfully almost always aimed at the male child market—Ninja Turtles, Batman, Spiderman—all fighting and fly-kicking each other’s heads off in a never-ending battle for toyshop shelf-space supremacy, but Steve was on less familiar ground with his daughter Melody.
“I’m Princess Elsa, Daddy.”
“Yeah, well, take her and get me some paracetamol.”
“I don’t think the Turtles help drunks,” said Melody flatly.
Steve massaged his temples. “Daddy’s not a drunk, Melody, he just gets drunk. There’s a difference. We talked about that, didn’t we, about semantics?”
But she’d already marched out of the room and up the stairs.
“Oh have a drink, Steve!” said Johnny, parroting Sarah’s faithful and favorite default rebuke, then clambering onto the sofa and fly-kicking off his father’s shin bone. “Cowabunga!” he exclaimed.
“Please don’t do ninja off of Daddy, Johnny. He’s not a dojo.”
“What’s a dojo? Is it a type of pizza? When can we open our big presents, Daddy?”
“After lunch, Johnny.”
“Have I got a Playstation 4 with GTA? Also, Daddy?”
“Is it pizza for lunch, Daddy?”
“No. It’s Christmas dinner. You know what Christmas dinner is.”
“Can I get Dominos, though?”
“No, you’ll eat your dry turkey and clumpy gravy with the rest of the family like a good boy.”
“But I like pizza better.”
“So do I, John. So does everyone.”
John sat down on the sofa with his back against Steve’s shoulder, chewing pensively on his ninja nunchaku.
“Because we just do. Because it’s a tradition, Johnny.”
“Can we open our big presents now, Daddy?”
Steve rolled over and buried his face in the back rest of the sofa.
“Oh have a drink, Steve!” screamed Johnny, so loudly and sharply Steve lurched upwards with shock, catapulting his seven-year-old son off the sofa and onto the floor. Johnny sprung up like a cocker spaniel, struck a stinging blow on Steve’s back with his nunchaku (“Hiyah!”), and then sprinted out of the room.
Steve dozed. Moments later Johnny was back.
“Daddy, can we open our big presents now?”
“Can I have some more coffee?”
“Can I at least open one present?”
Steve heaved himself up and sidled over to the liquor cabinet—this called for short-term emergency measures, lots of measures in fact, administered regularly throughout the day.
“No, you’ll wait until after lunch. It’s tradition. There are children in Ethiopia and” (Steve gave a vague wave of his hand) “bits of Africa, where they won’t be playing PlayStations any time today.”
“They can share ours if we have another controller,” said Johnny, tugging on his father’s dressing gown cord.
“Look, you know we open our big presents after lunch, with Uncle Simon and Sienna.”
“But I want to play GTA Daddy. I want to kill a pastasuit with a baseball bat.”
“Yes, with a baseball bat. You can do that on GTA. Liam’s bother said so. You have to because her pimp says so and also because of The Game.”
“Oh! Prostitute. The word is ‘prostitute’ Johnny. Pros-ti-tute.”
“I want to kill one, Daddy!”
Johnny began thrashing wildly at Steve’s shins with his nunchaku.
“Stop that, please—you’ll make Daddy spill his gin.”
Johnny lost his grip and the plastic toy flew across the room, smashing into a particularly expensive vase.
“Shitting fuck, Johnny,” exclaimed Steve, listening for the footsteps of his wife. He heard nothing except the blare of the kitchen radio. “Phew, we’d better get that cleaned up,” he said. “Hopefully your mum won’t notice ‘til at least the Queen’s speech.”
“You shouldn’t swear, Daddy!” said Johnny, grabbing the next nearest potential weapon and whacking his father’s kneecap with the fire poker. Steve sank to the ground in pain. He grabbed at his son but was too slow. Johnny caught him across the face and he tumbled sideways, scratching his face against the outer branches of the Christmas tree.
“You’re a pros-ti-tute Daddy!” Johnny shouted, as he swung again and again at Steve’s head.
With his cheek pressed against the carpet, Steve stared without seeing at the Christmas tree’s gaudy, paint-chipped stand. His hangover was already dissipating and the noise of his son’s inane braying was fading away, replaced now by a high-pitched whine from within his skull. He wouldn’t be able to finish his gin, but at least he’d be spared any more carols, or Let Them Know It’s Christmas Time, or watch Elf or Jingle All The Way, or do any washing up, or watch Sarah struggle to arrange her face into a look of suitable gratitude when she unwrapped the fondue kit he knew perfectly well was total shit, or worry that his own expression wasn’t also of a convincing enough caliber of merriment at any given moment of the day.
When Johnny eventually got bored, his father’s face was a gooey lattice of linear indentations, layers of skin overlapping fleshy red chunks of meat like the pasta in a hastily constructed lasagne. One eye, Johnny noticed, was like jelly—like the frog spawn they’d looked at in the school pond when the weather was still warm and they’d worn shorts.
Melody arrived just as Johnny was retrieving his nunchaku from behind the sofa.
“What’s Daddy doing under the Christmas tree?” she asked.
“I was showing him GTA stuff.”
Melody walked over to take a closer look at the damage.
“His face is all opened up.”
“It’s okay. He’s asleep and you can’t feel stuff when you’re asleep. That’s why if you need a poo you can go to sleep and then you won’t need a poo anymore.”
But Melody had lost interest and was shaking one of the presents under the tree.
“Did he say whether we could open our big presents?”
Johnny didn’t like to lie to his sister directly. “I can’t remember.”
“Did he say ‘Ask your mother’? That’s what he normally says when he doesn’t want to answer questions.”
Johnny made a show of trying to remember: head cocked to one side, finger pressed against his lip. “Yes, I think he might have done.”
Melody picked up one her father’s arms.
“We should clean Daddy away. He’s making the Christmas tree look all manky.”
Together and with great difficulty they shifted their father’s body behind the sofa.
“You two look very hot. Did you have fun playing with Daddy?” asked Sarah, moments later in the kitchen.
“Not really,” said Melody, “His head’s all over the place.”
“That’s called a hangover, Melody. It’s what happens when you’ve been naughty and drunk too much alcohol.”
Sarah bent down and pulled out the huge metal oven tray. The turkey sat like a squat immovable monolith, surrounded by trappings of roast potato and pigs in blankets. Goose and turkey fat swilled about the tray like a moat around a greasy, glistening, abominable edifice.
“Did you get some vegetarian stuff, Mummy?” asked Melody.
Sarah sighed. “You’re not a vegetarian, Melly.”
“I am!” shouted Melody, stamping her foot and clenching her fist.
“You’re not. You’re nine years old—you don’t know what you are.”
“Clara’s mum lets her be vegetarian.”
“Well, I’m not Clara’s mum and when you do the cooking around here—Johnny, get down from there, please—and when you know why you’d ever want to be vegetarian you can go ahead and be vegetarian.”
Melody kicked out at the kitchen cabinet in frustration.
“Don’t be naughty, Melody.”
“You’re already naughty, Mummy. You said you wouldn’t drink until lunch but you’ve already been drinking the cooking sherry. And you’re always telling Daddy he’s bad about drinking. And I know you didn’t make those mince pies yourself, even though you told Mrs. Grimm you did.”
Sarah winced. “Right,” she said. “I’m confiscating your Frozen Blu-ray and you’ll change out of that dress right now and you won’t wear it again until I say so.”
“No!” screamed Melody, and in a rage she yanked with all her might on the handle of the oven tray. It landed with a crash on the inside of the oven door, spilling its contents onto the linoleum. Sarah straightened up, her face a picture of wide-eyed horror as she surveyed the wreckage of her morning’s work.
At that same moment Johnny, perched precariously atop the kitchen counter and stretching towards the biscuit tin, tumbled backwards into the small of his mother’s back. Sarah slipped on the greased floor, falling forward onto her knees in front of the oven.
Melody—instinctively, and with as much speed as she could muster—swung the oven door upwards, catching Sarah’s head between the door and the frame. Sarah cried out once, before Melody again bought the door crashing into the side of her skull, this time leaving clear, pink, glistening blisters of burnt skin on her cheek and temple.
Sarah slumped forward onto the kitchen floor groaning, before Melody retrieved the empty tray, lifted it above her head and slammed it down onto her mother’s cranium. Sarah lay unmoving amid the grease and meat.
“I will take not off my dress,” said Melody, dropping the tray with a clatter.
Behind her Johnny had pulled open a drawer and was scattering leaflets, receipts, batteries, and various other odds-and-ends onto the floor.
“What’re you doing?” asked Melody.
“Looking for the Dominos menu. Dinner’s broken, we can get pizza now.”
“Places aren’t open on Christmas Day.”
“Oh have a drink, Steve,” he retorted, then bent down next to the body of his mother and searched through her pockets, pulling out her mobile phone. Slowly and deliberately he tapped in the number.
“No one there,” he said eventually.
“This one says it’s open every day,” said Melody, idly chewing on a roast potato and picking up a leaflet off the floor.
Johnny tried again, his face breaking into a grin and his eyes shining through the holes of his blood splattered eye-band as the call went through: “Hi. I want two of your pizzas please. The biggest ones you have, please. Melody’s vegetarian now and I like sausage and bacon. Um…there’s a tree outside it and we have a gate, a wooden gate with a 23 on it. We’re next door to Mrs. Grimm from Sunday School.”
“Give it here,” said Melody, taking the phone. “I’m the oldest.”
Johnny scowled at his sister as he relinquished the phone.
“Hello? Our address is
23 Blarney Avenue, Esher, Surrey, SU66 6SN, England. It’s all over the kitchen floor. Mummy… dropped it, she’s on the floor too. Yes, cooking sherry. Okay. Thank you, see you later.”
“They’ll be half an hour,” she said, hanging up the phone.
“Cowabunga!” shrilled Johnny.
“We need to tidy up here.”
“Because Sienna doesn’t like mess.”
“Where shall we put Mummy? Behind the sofa?”
“It’s too far. We could… break her up a bit, like the coffee table Daddy bought from Ikea.”
“Haha! She’s not made from screws and wood though, Melly!”
“I have an idea,” said Melody, rooting through the cupboard under the breakfast bar, emerging a moment later with an electric carving knife. “Daddy’s cheat stick, for when he’s had too much booze before Sunday lunches.”
Twenty minutes later the siblings sat exhausted on the kitchen floor—now coated in a thin film of blood and fat—and scattered with tendrils of flesh, gristle, and half-roasted trimmings. Alongside the turkey, in a neat pile, sat Sarah’s limbs, torso, and head.
“Help me put Mummy away, Johnny,” said Melody, getting up and pushing Sarah’s torso into the oven.
“Look,” said Jonny excitedly, “I can do a Klinnsman like on FIFA 15!” and with that he launched himself, arms flung forward, across the kitchen floor on his belly, cutting through the quagmire of fatty blood and torn flesh. “Ouch!” he said, as his head met the bottom of the kitchen cabinet, “I’ve cracked me noggin.”
“You’ve ruined your turtle’s costume too,” observed Melody.
“No matter, I can put it in the washing machine Mummy said.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” said Melody, picking up Sarah’s head and throwing it unceremoniously into the washing machine. “And I think these might fit in here,” she said, picking up both arms and placing them in the top shelf of the dishwasher. The legs just about fitted in the bottom drawer if she folded them right.
Suddenly the doorbell rang.
“It’s Uncle Simon and Sienna!” said Melody.
“I’ll get it,” said Johnny, rushing off towards the front door.
Johnny flung the door open and looked excitedly up at a taller, portlier version of his own father, but with a moustache and wearing a sheepskin coat, giving the overall impression of a ‘70s football manager dealing used cars on the side.
“Hi Uncle Simon, hi Sienna,” Johnny said, looking now at the woman standing next to his uncle.
“Hello, Johnny,” she said, stamping out a cigarette under a blood-red high-heeled shoe. Her hair was dyed a vivid orange that clashed nauseatingly with her tangerine skin tone. “Where are your parents then? I’m starving and thirsty.”
Johnny thought about the state of his father’s face and his mother disassembled like an Ikea coffee table. They probably wouldn’t want to be seen in those states.
“They went to the pub.”
“And left you on your own?” asked Sienna, “And they say we’re irresponsible,” she muttered to her husband.
“Why have they left you here, and how’d you get into that state?” asked Simon, pointing to the sticky, deep red stain coating most of Johnny’s front.
“We’re… putting on a play,” he said. “A Christmas play, and we’re practicing.”
“Well, I guess the local’s not that far. It’s The Splintered Axe, yes?”
“Yes,” said Johnny.
“Right, well, we’ll see you two in a bit then. I’m looking forward to dinner. Smells great!”
“It’s Mummy,” said Johnny.
“Well, I’d hardly expect your Dad to do the cooking!”
Johnny slammed the door and ran back to the kitchen.
“They’ve gone to the pub,” said Johnny.
“Good. I tried to mop up but it’s not much use.”
“Let’s get the PlayStation,” said Johnny.
“Good idea,” said his sister.
“And you need to turn the oven off.”
Johnny was getting angrier and angrier with the PlayStation manual’s instructions.
“I wish Daddy would wake up and do this for us,” he said.
“I don’t think he will,” said Melody.
“At least he doesn’t need a poo.”
“I suppose that’s something.”
Suddenly, the doorbell again.
“Pizza!” screamed Johnny, “Cowa-shitting-bunga!”
Johnny yanked open the front door with such force he very nearly tumbled into the umbrella stand. He looked up into the face of a dark skinned youth in a branded baseball cap and large puffer jacket.
“Are you Ethiopian?” asked Johnny.
“No, mate. But you’re Raphael?”
“No, I’m Michelangelo.”
“I thought he was the orange one.”
Johnny inspected the sticky reddened ends of his eye-band. “We’ve been putting on a play,” he said.
“You’ll have to pay for this,” said the kid, pulling a pizza box from its cushioned bag. “And no jokes. I’m expecting a tip, yeah? Getting me out here on Christmas Day.”
“Come in. Daddy has money.”
The youth tentatively entered the hallway.
“Where’re your family?”
“The pub, mostly. Asleep. Or at the pub. Asleep at the pub.”
“Oh my days, is that a PS4?” said the youth, peering into the living room.
“Do you want to play? Daddy said you don’t have one. We don’t know how to make it come on.”
“Nice,” said the kid, whose name was Mo.
Melody appeared in the hallway, closing the kitchen door firmly behind her. “Here’s some money,” she said, pushing a wad of bank notes into Mo’s hand and surreptitiously wiping the electric carving knife on her dress.
“Nice,” said Mo again, flipping open his phone and calling a number. “Raj, mate. Get yourself over to 23 Blarney. Tell Keith and Faris.”
By five o’clock there was six of them, all taking turns battering prostitutes to death through mouthfuls of Christmas pizza. Mo ate a slice skewed on the fire poker while Raj idly cut candles in half with the electric carving knife. Together they’d already seen off the bottle of gin left out on the bookcase and some port they’d chosen from the liquor cabinet. All except for Faris, that is, who didn’t drink.
“Can I play now?” said Johnny.
“I thought you were keeping a lookout for grownups?”
“Can’t you keep a lookout for grownups?”
“He needs to make sure the PS4 keeps going,” said Raj.
“I think we should take turns,” said Melody from just behind the couch. “It’s not fair otherwise.”
“Bloody hell, can’t we get rid of these two somehow?” asked the one called Khalid.
“Alright,” said Mo, “But someone will have to keep a lookout for whenever these kids’ fucking parents decide to come back. Give us a hand then, Faris. You too, Keith.”
Between the three of them they made reasonably light work of tying up and moving the siblings into the spare room wardrobe, locking it shut. Faris did boxing on Tuesday nights, which helped.
“I’m a bit scared, actually,” said Johnny, through a mouthful of his own ninja eye-band, which had served as a useful gag for his captors when he’d started screaming for his parents. “I wish Daddy would wake up and put Mummy back together.”
“I know,” said Melody, guiltily.
Amid the swaddled warmth of the wardrobe they fell asleep, waking to the sound of muffled and indecipherable shouts and thumps coming from somewhere in the house. It continued for a long time—screams and bangs and crashes that seemed to migrate from room to room. At one point they thought they heard footsteps running up the stairs and Johnny began to wriggle with panic, bringing clothes and coat hangers tumbling down on top of them. Melody cried out for him to stop, until, in a burst of light the door of the wardrobe swung open, and a man clad in black towered over the two of them, his hands streaked in blood.
“I’ve found them! I’ve bloody found them,” he shouted, his voice hoarse and rasping, again and again, until two more men arrived, and Johnny and Melody were pulled out of the wardrobe, had blankets put round them, and were carried downstairs.
The door of the kitchen was open now, and Melody and Johnny saw that other people seemed also to have done Klinnsman dives through the blood. Several glasses had been smashed. The turkey was cowering right up against the skirting board, as if embarrassed by its own presence.
As the policemen carried them outside they saw Sienna sitting on the curb crying, covered in blood, and Uncle Simon standing—dancing, almost—in the middle of the street, screaming about Asian gangs and terrorism and The Guardian and child grooming. They saw Mrs. Grimm standing alone a small distance away from the scene in her dressing gown, unnoticed by anyone else.
And then they walked past a policewoman talking into a walkie-talkie (“…youths: two black, three Asian, one white. I dunno; a convert, maybe?”). And there were ambulances and black plastic bags and people with camera phones. And there was Mo and Faris and Raj and Khalid and Keith and the other one they’d never learned the name of. Andy? Abed? And they were covered in blood too, sitting in three different police cars. And the whole thing was bathed in blue and red and yellowy orange from the streetlights of Blarney Avenue.
And then it began to snow, but no one noticed except Johnny and Melody.
John Miskelly is twenty-eight and lives in Bristol. He does not care for Christmas. More of his writings can be found on his blog http://www.protagonistcomplex.blogspot.com/ and on this very website: